I spent an entire day at work thinking about Uncle Sam.
It all started when my coworkers and I were huddled around a little picnic table during our all-too-short lunch break. We were discussing our plans for the Fourth of July, which included fun trips to Lake Tahoe and watching fireworks in the Baylands, when somebody mentioned that they were planning to opt out of the festivities this Independence Day. They mentioned how in light of the current presidential administration, the political climate and the plethora of social justice issues that our country is facing, celebrating seemed inappropriate.
Even after the topic of conversation had changed and we had all dispersed from the table, my coworker’s comments replayed in my head. Was it wrong for me to dress up in red, white and blue marvel at fireworks, honoring a country in which parents are separated from their children? In which gun violence ends thousands of lives each year? In which a man facing allegations of sexual assault can hold the highest office of the land?
Throughout the day, I thought about how patriotism had been instilled in me at a young age, from reciting the Pledge of Allegiance each morning in elementary school to listening to the national anthem at every sporting event I’ve attended. Had I been brainwashed into unconditional loyalty to my country, despite its troubled past and present?
Without many plans to speak of for Fourth of July this year, I’ve recently spent a lot of time reflecting on how I celebrated last year — on the lawn of the United States Capitol, singing along to the Beach Boys and cheering to fireworks exploding over the National Mall. Knowing what I know about everything that’s wrong with this country, why is it that I still get chills up and down my arm thinking about that moment and how inspired I felt looking across the mall at my fellow citizens? Why can I not resist smiling every time Cal Band performs “The Star-Spangled Banner” in California Memorial Stadium? Why do I cry at country songs about fallen soldiers who died fighting for freedom in this troubled land?
Thinking back to last summer in the steamy D.C. air and pyrotechnics flashing behind the Washington Monument, I’m reminded of the struggles that Americans of all walks of life had to endure to give me the opportunity to live here. I think about how the women’s suffrage movement and the March on Washington in 1963 took place nearly a stone’s throw away from where I sat. I think about how brilliant minds and brave hearts have congregated on that very grass to bring freedom to this country.
I’m writing this with the awareness that I live in a privileged version of America, where I am granted freedoms that many are not. I live in an America where I can use the bathroom of my preferred gender identity, I’ve never skipped a meal in my life and I can feel safe in the presence of police force. How can I, in good conscience, celebrate America’s independence knowing that freedom has not reigned down equally on all who live here?
I’ve come to terms with the fact that I will celebrate the Fourth of July for all of the great men and women who have lived and died for America, fighting to uphold the values that so many Americans share despite a political regime that utilizes hateful words and actions. I will celebrate for the great men and women who have come before Donald Trump, and for the great men and women who will undoubtedly come after him. I will celebrate because I refuse to believe that one presidential administration can undo the work of so many before it to secure human rights for all.
I will celebrate because despite America’s problematic past featuring slavery, sexism, transphobia and more troubling issues, there are good people in this country who fight every day to preserve our values of diversity, acceptance and freedom. I will celebrate not because I’m ignoring the stains in America’s past, but because I have an undying faith in those who struggle to weave a new fabric, one where families are cherished and diversity is celebrated.
I’m proud to be from a country where I can publish my personal thoughts on the internet without the fear of being arrested or killed. I’m proud to be from a country where a white working-class woman can marry a Vietnamese refugee, where they can eventually send their daughter to the No. 1 public university in the world. I’m proud to be from a country with a flag on the moon. I’m proud to be from a country where tens of thousands of citizens take to the streets when they see an injustice that demands resolution.
I’m proud to be an American, and no number of problematic politicians will ever take that away from me.
Contact Hannah Nguyen at [email protected].